For Dads Only
Dr. Dale Simpson
ìWhat a father says to his children is not heard by the world, but it will be heard by posterity.î Unknown
I want to share something I heard recently about wisdom. Somebody was asked, ìHow did you get to be so wise?î The reply was, ìWell, it wasnít that hard. I have good judgment,and good judgment comes from experience, and experience, well, that comes from having bad judgment.î Isnít that true? We donít learn as much by success as we do by failure.
Malcom Muggeridge said in all his life he never learned anything important except through pain. If we pay attention and let our failures teach us, and if we arenít too defensive, weíre going to gather wisdom as we travel along this journey of life. If not, weíll repeat the same mistakes. None of us have all the answers. We need to use our failures and our mistakes in ways that will produce wisdom so weíll be better equipped as men in the different roles we perform. The most important role weíll play is likely our role as father.
There are many models in the world today of what men are supposed to be and do. Many speakers and authors have given you their perspective on this. My perspective may be different from theirs and yours may be different from mine, and thatís fine. I am not God; I donít tell people how to act. Even the Bible does not necessarily nail down who in the home writes the checks, buys the car, etc. It gives us principles. From a Christian perspective thereís a lot of flexibility. God didnít spell it out in detail in such rigid roles that we canít be flexible to our situation and culture.
One thing I want to emphasize is that men terribly underestimate how important they are to the emotional life of the family. Whether youíre good at emotional or relational things or not, whatever you do is critical. You affect your family in tremendous ways. Your kids are internalizing you and your wife. Children are becoming your reaction to them whether you like it or not. You are interacting with them. Thatís why itís wise to be together, to encourage each other, to strengthen each other, to help each other when we mess up. Building personalities in our children is the most important thing we can do with our lives. Whatever you do, donít underestimate your value interpersonally with your family.
Where do we learn our role model for fathering? We start with our own father, or stepfather, or some father figure in our life. Maybe some of us were raised without a man in the home, so weíre still looking for a father figure. We are also influenced by the role models in the media and our tendency is to model after observed behavior. Some of the modern day role models have to do with successful positions in the business or sports world such as head football coaches. I heard a popular NFL coach say, ìThe life of an NFL coach consists of going to work at six in the morning, getting home about eleven at night, and doing that seven days a week all year long. You know, after a while, that can lead to burnout.î This man is one of our role models, a successful football coach, a man who gets accolades, who wins championships. This driven behavior isnít smart. Granted, itís hard work. The successful coach is a hard worker. These actions can win championship rings, but they canít win a wifeís heart. They canít be a father to their children. These kinds of men will be lucky if they become nice grandfathers to their grandchildren. These driven men will not likely succeed with their children in the way they succeed in sports.
So, there are trade-offs. When you&Mac226;re saying ìyesî to something, you&Mac226;re saying ìnoî to something else. Let me tell you the ìnoî that hurts the most. Saying ìnoî to quality time with your children will cause them to learn to live without you. Theyíll sometimes develop behavioral symptoms and theyíll learn to live without you. You have to choose between being there for your children or being with the career trade-off in your life. The driven career man isnít a healthy role model. I donít even consider it truly successful. If Iím on my deathbed looking back at my life and Iím one of the top fifty psychologists in the country, but I donít know my children and I donít have a close relationship with my wife, Iíll consider myself an utter failure in life. Saint Paul saw the same thing when he said one mark of a Christian leader is to have his home life in order. Itís also tremendously important for our wives and our children to have security based in love, where they know we arenít loving them because theyíre acting right and then removing affection when theyíre acting wrong.
Men frequently show this contingency. When our kids mess up, the consequences should not be the withdrawal of our affection and love. This is emotionally deadly. We need to show them affirmation, cherish them, accept them - the good, the bad, and the ugly in them. There isnít anything they can do thatís too big for us to handle with them, even when they are angry with us. Can you let your kids be mad at you in a respectful way? Are you big enough and secure enough to accept your childrenís anger, especially when it is aimed at you?
The generation that raised me in the 50ís and early 60ís considered it disrespectful to become angry at a parent. Just feeling anger was disrespectful. You were never taught to be angry in a healthy, godly way. You were just told, ìDonít do that!î Did that make the anger go away? NO. We just went to our rooms, turned up the radio as loud as we could and invented the 1960ís. We, in part, were saying ìSomebody listen to me!î
Be sure youíre big enough to let your children feel fear, joy, anger, or hurt in your relationship to them, because theyíre going to feel it whether you want them to or not. The difference will be that if you can handle those feelings, they will be more able to handle them and figure out a healthy way to express those feelings. If you show you canít handle unpleasant feelings, they get pushed down within the child and then come out in symptoms. If a son can come angrily and say, ìDad, Iím really mad at you because you wonít let me go bowling...Iím mad at you because you told me youíd fix my bike and you didnít do it... Iím mad at you because you yelled at me.î Itís a good thing. In our family this is considered respectful because he is telling me about feelings he has and sharing information. Now, if he slams a door in your face, if he says youíre stupid, thatís disrespectful. The anger isnít the problem, but how it is expressed.
If I train him that itís okay to react disrespectfully in anger, he wonít stay on a job very long, nor will he stay in a marriage. Proper anger expression is a necessary skill in life. If we fail to teach truly proper outlets for anger, life will be needlessly difficult.
I want to help you come to terms with your feelings and to route them in a respectful, healthy way and this process can be reflected in your children. Yet in conflict, many of us get really defensive and angry. We shout and send kids to their rooms. We arenít able to say, ìHoney, I know youíre angry with me, but youíre shouting, and thatís disrespectful. You need to get control because if you donít Iím going to discipline you because I love you. I know youíre mad at me and you need to look at your choices right now.î We have to help them learn to express themselves.
Let me tell you a secret about anger. Underneath anger thereís something deeper. Anger is a defense mechanism. Itís a secondary emotion. When youíre angry, ask yourself these questions - What am I hurting about? In what am I disappointed? What am I feeling rejected about? What am I sad about? Some form of hurt, loss, helplessness or not getting your way, is always underneath anger. Weíre looking for the hurt. Thatís the key to control. Anger is okay to talk about, but the thing we want to strive for is talking about the hurt underneath. This hurt is even more intimate, deeper, more on-target, and it will more easily address the problem.
Look for the hurt. Look for the pain underneath. Talk to your children about it. Thatís dealing with the inner life. Thatís where we need to deal with our family. We donít want to stay on the surface all the time. I have a plaque in my office that says, ìBetter than being the head of the family is being the heart of it.î Letís be the heart of our family. Thatís where everybody really lives. Thatís where eternity is.
1. How do you contribute to your family besides providing an income, mowing the lawn, or changing the oil in the car?
2. Can you view your possessions as a format for teaching your child? For example, can you see a $20 tool that was ruined by the rain, as an instrument for teaching your child responsibility and consequences?
3. When you are on your deathbed, who do you want by your side? Why do you want them to be there? What do you want them to remember about you? What do you need to do to make the end come out like you want?
4. Love and caring can be expressed with a hug, a few words of praise, or a few minutes of listening. Pick one simple thing a day to express caring to each child and your wife.
5. Are you a strong enough man to accept you childís feelings and thoughts even if they are different from yours? Do you think that accepting feelings is the same as tolerating misbehavior?
This article is an excerpt from Home Schooling For Life, by Dr. Dale Simpson, published by Common Sense Press. Meet Dale Simpson at this yearís New England Homeschool & Family Learning Conference in Boxborough Massachusetts (see page 8). Used by permission. For more books and materials by Dr. Simpson, contact Common Sense Press, PO Box 1365, Melrose, FL 32666. 352/475-5757. Website: www.commonsensepress.com